Stellenbosch University has always been one of the top academic institutions in the country but has also been one of the best rugby clubs for many decades, yet if you are part of Maties the main emphasis is placed on your academic achievements, not so much your sport or rugby achievements.
FNB Varsity Cup, presented by Steinhoff International, has changed rugby in South Africa over the past ten years into something exhilarating and exciting, something that hadn’t been seen in rugby across the world yet. The format of a passionate student tournament has been a major success for local rugby in the country, but sometimes people forget that these representatives are in fact just normal ‘students’. The rugby players in the competition have to adhere to a set of academic standards before being available for selection for their respective Varsity Cup teams and at FNB Maties it is done without hesitation or short cuts.
In 2015 FNB Maties winger, Edwill van der Merwe, was in the Western Province Rugby Institute, based in Stellenbosch, where he represented DHL Western Province U/19 in the Currie Cup. Despite having almost three training sessions a day, Edwill took on the opportunity of taking subjects at Stellenbosch University in the second semester so that he could gain the required 60 credits before the end of that year, which would make him eligible for selection for FNB Maties the following year.
It’s safe to say that the following year Edwill was a massive attribute to FNB Maties’ campaign in 2016, where they made it to the final. Edwill’s self-discipline and determination to study and then pass his November exams, while still being in the WPRI, just to make it into the FNB Maties squad, is exactly what this great competition is based on – the pure fact that this is still a university competition, meaning that these players are fulltime students and have bigger future goals than just Monday night rugby.
Last year Michal Haznar joined Stellenbosch University, with the hope to rejuvenate his rugby career. Haznar was not allowed to play in the 2016 Varsity Cup competition, because he didn’t have any previous 60-credit qualification behind his name. What made him special was the fact that he didn’t quit on his rugby dream or maybe going somewhere else with the hope of getting game time at some other club.
Haznar took the whole of 2016 to study at FNB Maties and get his academic standards up as high as possible, which he succeeded in and eventually he was more than eligible to play for FNB Maties this year and the young centre hasn’t looked back since. Last Monday night he got his first start of the season and capped it off with a great try. He also came off the bench in all the previous matches for FNB Maties.
It is safe to say that FNB Maties as a whole, will always be an academic institution, one which they are very proud of. In the current FNB Maties squad there are 14 players with degrees behind their names, something you won’t easily see at any other university.
By Andre Huisamen